September 11, 2006

Learned Stupidity

A reader writes:

John Derbyshire is right, most Americans are innumerate. Unfortunately, I would have to number myself among them. I couldn't rigorously define a standard deviation at gunpoint. But that doesn't mean that I don't have a rudimentary grasp of statistical concepts. Talk to any sports fan or gambler and I bet they have a good rudimentary grasp as well (baseball batting averages, lottery odds, etc.). The point is that statistical ignorance is usually reserved for political and cultural issues, and this is by design of the current educational establishment.

I've encountered this annoying ignorance many times myself. But rather than being an issue of innumeracy, I consider it to be symptomatic of postmodern degeneracy. Averages are suspect because of their close connection with the cultural taboo of stereotypes. Epistemologically, one of postmodernism's most cherished notions is that facts and truth are either nonexistent or are culturally specific. Truth can only be found in the most marginalized exceptions. The postmodernists are correct; statistics are indeed the very essence of valid stereotypes.

I have found a viable solution to this problem, however. When I'm engaged in conversation and somebody pulls out the, "but not all...", or "that's not always true" inanities, I just look at them and say words to the effect of, "Sorry, but I assumed you understand the difference between all, some, and none." And indeed, the relationships between all, some, and none comprise the very essence of statistics.

This woeful ignorance is new. It is also self-inflicted. These are the bitter fruits of postmodernism, which favors right attitudes at the expense of knowledge and skills.

Yes, it's remarkable how the concept of "the average" is now morally suspect across the political spectrum.

Modern statistical analysis was largely invented by three eugenicists: Sir Francis Galton, Karl Pearson, and Sir Ronald A. Fisher. I'm alive today because the cancer treatments that saved my life in 1997 were researched using the techniques outlined for how to do scientific experiments in two books written by Fisher between the Wars. Fisher was one of the true giants of 20th Century science, making important contributions to statistics, genetics, and evolution. His track record of building his own mathematical tools to solve crucial problems in science is reminiscent of Newton's.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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